Boise Song Talk Talks Songs With Boise 

Local music talk show launches second season

James Coberly Smith talks songwriting on his TVCTV program, Boise Song Talk.

Patrick Sweeney

James Coberly Smith talks songwriting on his TVCTV program, Boise Song Talk.

Boise Song TalkFridays at 8:30 p.m. on TVCTV, Channel 11, or View old episodes at

After a career in financial services in Los Angeles, James Coberly Smith decided to retire to Boise in 2008, something his friends didn't entirely understand. They still keep asking him if he's in Iowa.

"It was a scary thing for me to move here," Smith said. "I'm getting up at not a young age; I'm pulling the plug. It could have been rough."

But Smith brought a guitar in his carpetbag, and he quickly became entranced with Boise's music scene.

"I thought so much stuff here was so cool, all the live music. They could have pumped in music, but instead, they had live music," said Smith. "It was very vibrant to me."

But the thing that spoke most to Smith was the copious local supply of singer-songwriters and folk types, a style close to his own.

"That's my love in life--songwriting," he said.

Eager to do something to celebrate the work being created locally, he founded Boise Song Talk, a half-hour TV interview series on Treasure Valley Community Television featuring local songwriters. Boise Song Talk's second season began airing Oct. 5.

Most of the shows will have the same basic formula as the first season said Smith.

That formula is a simple question-and-answer series with local songwriters, quizzing them about their body of work, their process and whatever tricks they've picked up along the way. It's a forum that appealed greatly to local musician Dan Costello, who was an early guest on the show and met Smith at a Pengilly's open mic.

"He really didn't want to try to push the performance artistry or anything there," said Costello. "He really wanted to drill down to the bedrock of the song itself. That was a really unique part of it."

During the show's first season--which featured interviews with local notables like Travis Ward of Hillfolk Noir, Rebecca Scott, Johnny Shoes and many more--Smith would also play an original song or two and wax philosophical about songwriting before getting to the guest. But that's something he cut for the second season.

"I'm not going to do as much theatrics at the front," Smith added. "I'm going to get to the guest a little more quickly."

But even after trimming the fat, Smith's show still doesn't have the tight editing and driving production of something like VH1's Behind the Music or even Storytellers. The pace is far slower and more introspective, with Smith quizzing the guests on their inspirations, techniques and what drives them to do what they do.

"I tell every guest that this is rock 'n' roll TV, completely unedited," he said. "We record them from start to finish and most camera shot choices are made by the student directors and crews on the spot, as the show is taking place. I tell the guests to think of it as a live recording--if the paintings fall on us, keep going."

Smith said he believes the content is good enough for people to see past any potential production shortcomings.

But not everyone agrees with him.

"Someone looked at me on these interviews and said, 'Man, this guy is a weak journalist,'" Smith said. "Well, I'm not a journalist. I'm a songwriter. But I'm a great appreciator."

That's why for the show's second season, Smith put a lot more work into research and preparation for his interviews.

"I realized how much homework I had to do on guests," Smith said. "I really had to listen to their CDs and really think about questions. And even then, in a live unedited interview, I had to think about where I wanted to go, but it didn't always go there. It was like riding a wild bronco. It took a lot more work, but it's worth it. I think the result is better."

Smith booked a wide range of artists for the show's second season, including a three-part series with celebrated folk singer Rosalie Sorrels.

"She was much too big a subject," Smith said. "Once I started meeting with her, I realized I couldn't stick to just the one subject."

The three episodes with Sorrels are broken up thematically: music and life on the road, family history and the love of words, and career highlights and influences.

The second season will also feature Marcus Eaton, Thomas Paul, Catherine and Sam Merrick of a.k.a. Belle and more.

"To me, what's interesting about that lineup is that you go all the way from Rosalie Sorrels, who is a two-time Grammy nominee, all the way to a couple of those names you may never have heard of, and yet, they're all great songwriters," Smith said.

One of those featured songwriters is local folk and jazz singer Patricia Folkner.

"One of the things we talked about was approaching a song from an artistic point of view versus a technical point of view," she said.

According to Folkner, there's a big difference in those approaches.

"I'm a guitar teacher," she said. "So I spent a lot of time learning my instrument, which isn't always something that folk singers have done. So we kind of approached it through that angle."

But Folkner said the thing that really made it all come together for her was Smith himself.

"James has this incredible way of making you feel comfortable," she said.

For the second season of Boise Song Talk, Smith has also gotten a website for the show in order, which means the shows should be online after they finish airing.

"Before, it would just air and go away and then it would be gone," Smith said. "This time, there will be a life beyond the airing just on TV."

And for the scene and the city that welcomed Smith with open arms, that matters.

"To me, what I owe right now to these guests is, I owe them my effort to promote these shows so that people see them," he said.

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